Justin Jackson isn’t old enough to remember much about the Vince Carter era in Toronto.
He was only a toddler when Carter put together one of the most memorable performances in NBA All-Star Weekend Dunk Contest history in 2000 and then led the Raptors to within a basket of the Eastern Conference finals a year later.
However, the moments – arguably the two biggest in franchise history – continue to live on today via the Internet and the 17-year-old Jackson says he’s watched all the famous clips. Though he never saw either of them play as Raptors, he still considers Carter and Tracy McGrady, who was a key part of the Toronto organization for three seasons in the late 1990s and early 2000s, to be two of the biggest influences on his career thus far.
“I used to watch YouTube highlights of Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady and they were a deadly combination,” Jackson said in front of a small media contingent in Toronto last weekend. “I used to watch those videos because I think I play like Tracy McGrady a little bit . . . I used to watch him even when he was with the Raptors and he was amazing.”
Jackson is a sophomore small forward on the Findlay Prep Pilots, a high school powerhouse based out of Henderson, Nev., that’s played a major part in helping produce a handful of NBA players including Canadians Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Anthony Bennett.
The 6-foot-8 Toronto native is one of three Canadians – Dillon Brooks and O’Shae Brissett being the two others – on the current Findlay Prep roster and he’s hoping to be the next Canadian-born player the school helps guide to the NCAA.
“Dylan, O’Shae and I all play key parts on this team,” he said. “In the past there was Anthony Bennett, Cory Joseph, Myck Kabongo and Tristan Thompson and they all played key parts [as well.] So even though we’re new [the team] still gives us the opportunities and roles to play because of those guys in the past.”
Jackson was home for the 1st JYD Classic, a high school game at the Air Canada Centre between Findlay Prep and Bill Crothers Secondary, a school in the Greater Toronto Area that puts an emphasis on elite athletics.
Findlay Prep’s rookie head coach, Jerome ‘JunkYard Dog’ Williams, was instrumental in putting the event together. Williams, of course, played parts of four seasons with the Raptors between 2000-2004 – he was Carter’s teammate during that time – and became a fan favourite around the city for his high-energy playing style and willingness to give back to the community.
After leading his team to a 55-51 win over Bill Crothers in their final game of the regular season – they finished the year 30-4 – Williams discussed the importance of bringing his team to Canada.
“It’s very important, especially with the Canadians we have on our team and the history of the Canadians,” Williams said. “Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Myck Kabongo and Anthony Bennett paved the way for these young guys and it’s important to come back and show your respect for the people that helped build this program at Findlay Prep and show where it got established.
“We won our national championships on the back of Avery Bradley who went on to to play on the Boston Celtics. He wasn’t Canadian but we also had Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson for two of those championships [in 2009 and 2010]. Then the next championship was Anthony Bennett [in 2012] who went on to become the no. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. So we don’t kid ourselves about our Canadian connection – basically our Canadian heritage – because without the Canadians we wouldn’t be Findlay Prep as people know us.”
Currently ranked as the 11th best prospect in the 2016 NCAA recruiting class (according to ESPN.com), Jackson has already received scholarship offers from a handful of Division I schools including Baylor and Florida and some are calling him the next major Canadian basketball prospect.
He refuses to let his individual success throw him off track, though. Watching Bennett and University of Kansas rookie Andrew Wiggins handle both success and adversity at higher levels as well as conversations with retired Canadian NBA big-man Jamaal Magloire has helped Jackson remain both focussed and grounded.
“He’s an amazing talent,” Williams said of Jackson. “He’s got a long way to go, but I think he’s going to have a prosperous career.”